• Zatoichi: The Festival Of Fire

    Released b: Animeigo
    Released on: 4/6/2004
    Director: Kenji Misumi Film:
    Released: 1970
    Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Tatsuya Nakadai, Reiko Ohara, Msayuki Mori

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    The Movie:

    With over 25 films, the character Zatoichi was the basis for a popular series in Japan from the early 1960’s to the 1980’s. In a world where most leading men are expected to be dashing supermen, Zatoichi was a break from the mold, with the hero instead being a blind swordsman who helps the underdogs in life.

    There is a common formula that is in the Zatoichi films: Zatoichi (the fantastic Shintaro Katsu) is a an occasional masseur, who enjoys gambling and wanders the countryside invariably helping out the society’s oppressed along the way and ultimately getting into numerous swordfights where he continuously emerges as the victor despite the odds. There is also a consistent element of trickery by others who attempt to use Zatoichi’s blindness for their own gain, as well as humor and joking, often made by Zatoichi himself, on his condition. While many of these themes appear in the films, against a lush backdrop of an older Japan, there are overall differences to each story’s plot that is told.

    Zatoichi: The Festival Of Fire (also known by several different alternative titles, such as Zatoichi 21) is one of the later era films and begins with Zatoichi attempting to save a young woman from the fate of being sold in an auction, and ending up with him visiting the local yakuza, after encountering some villagers feeling the brunt of their taxation policies.

    The yakuza boss, who is ironically also blind, pretends to welcome Zatoichi but dually begins to plot to kill him to prevent any interference with their way of life. After several different failed attack attempts on his life, they send a young lady, Okiyo, to get closer to him as part of the overall scheme. While Zatoichi seems undaunted by the brushes with death, he happily spends time with Okiyo, as well as time trying to dissuade a young pimp (an oddly effeminate young man) from joining the yakuza ranks. As Okiyo is exposed to Zatoichi’s gentle nature, it becomes more difficult for her to carry out the plan and even paradoxically saves his life during a runaway cart accident.

    Meanwhile, Zatoichi is also constantly stalked by the husband of the auctioned woman he tried to initially save. The husband is so obsessed with seeking vengeance and killing Zatoichi that he even ends up saving Zatoichi at one point, to prevent another man’s sword from being the resulting death blow and thus ruining his vendetta.

    Finally the yakuza boss, frustrated by the continual botched assassination attempts and disappointed with Okiyo’s change of heart, orchestrates one last showdown at a festival contrived only to eliminate Zatoichi, to deal with him once and for all.

    Zatoichi is then forced to deal with not only the yakuza at the festival, but eventually the revenge smitten husband as well, in an ending that is a cluster of battles upon battles.


    The film is given an excellent 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that has excellent colors and only minor print damage. Black levels look nice and solid and there aren't any serious issues aside from a bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes.

    The film is presented in a Japanese Dolby Digital Mono track with removable English subtitles. While it's not a very lively track, it is clean and clear and gets the job done nicely.

    While it's not a feature laden special edition, there are trailers for two Zatoichi films and two of the Lone Wolf And Cub films, as well as some program notes as a text piece on the DVD.

    The Final Word:

    There always seems to be one memorable highlight to the Zatoichi films, and I was happy to discover that Zatoichi: The Festival Of Fire contains a fight in bathhouse that is not only fantastically choreographed, but also unexpectedly bloody for the Zatoichi series. This along with the usual strong performance of Shintaro Katsu, and the restored picture makes it a enjoyable sword fight movie and one of the better Zatoichi films.